by James Mays • Chapter 11 of A Car and a Refrigerator Go to War: Nash-Kelvinator in World War II
On January 6, as Nash continued to be rocked by shortages, George Mason claimed that the magic formula for success
in America was wage stabilization; a free flow of materials; and lower prices. The
automaker [which paid below industry rates - ed.] was also experiencing a serious shortage of labor skills.
In March, Nash officials noted that 500 workers “with a wide range
of skills” were needed immediately and that the firm’s long-range
production program eventually would require the hiring of 2,000
Cars might not be widely available, but Topel-Nash threw open its
doors for an open house to show off its new home on January 17 and
18. The magnificently appointed ultra-modern dealership was complete
with an interesting display of the new 1947 Nash lineup, billed as
“The Superliner of the Highways.”
As president of the Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, George
Mason warned that there would be massive layoffs throughout
the industry if the current amount of pig iron being designated for
housing by the government wasn’t reallocated to the automotive
sector. “All the evidence we have is that the key to the pig iron
shortage is the allocation to housing purposes which seemed to exceed
present realistic housing completion schedules.... We are fully aware of other conditions limiting pig iron supply
and it is because of these that we maintain it is absolutely
necessary to avoid tying up valuable tonnage where it will not be put
to immediate use.” 2
By April, Nash had exhausted its meager allocation and
was forced to shut down the factory in Kenosha for two days. The
lines would reopen but production would be reduced in May and
adjusted downward in September for the same reason.3
Credit was also in short supply.
To keep a tight reign on consumer goods, the wartime administration
had required a third down in cash for a new car and permitted only
fifteen months to pay off the balance. With the war long over, Nash-Kelvinator’s Vice-President of Sales,
W. H. Doss, went public to urge its repeal.
On March 29, Local 72 of the UAW-CIO and Nash signed a new contract.
This agreement gave workers a 10 cent-per-hour increase in pay. It
was considered to be a “down payment” on the new national wage
scale, which was still in the making.
Despite the slowdowns and shutdowns, business was good for Nash. More
than one midwestern dealer flew into Kenosha Airport in private
planes, with drivers who would drive the cars back to
Nash was ready to sell off its wartime surplus of industrial
equipment, machine tools and office furniture by midyear. The War
Assets Administration handled the auction. Veterans were given
priority on bidding and the entire lot was taken out to a plant gate
for inspection. Items for sale included blowers, ventilators,
laboratory equipment, typewriters, filing equipment, wide-arm and
posture chairs, shop benches, scales, desks and fire cards. The
bidding was brisk and netted a tidy $3.5 million.
A Canary Yellow Nash Ambassador sedan paced the
Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in 1947. President George Mason got
behind the wheel for that first lap around the oval. Nash always
marched to the beat of a different drummer; it was the only time in
the history of the granddaddy
of all races that a closed car paced the event.
On June 11, the entire nation heaved a sigh of relief when the OPA
discontinued sugar rationing. The sugar bowl was free for the
filling for the first time since May 28, 1942. With that act, the
Office of Price Administration ceased to exist.
Nash-Kelvinator’s annual report noted that the constant postwar
shortages had prompted the company to purchase more machinery to
lessen the need on outside suppliers. The just-in-time delivery
system was replaced with storage for in-house parts production. The report was marked with frustration. It clearly but
diplomatically accused the Truman administration for needlessly
disrupting free enterprise. “The most positive thing that can be
said at present is that Nash-Kelvinator is thoroughly prepared to
produce at records levels—with supplies being the key to the
future” was the optimistic conclusion. (Housing was still critically short across the nation.)4
Truman made the first ever televised address from the
White House on October 5, admonishing Americans that the
Communists were poised to take over Europe, and urging Americans to
mark meatless Tuesdays and to eat poultry instead of beef on
Thursdays. Food sent to starving Europeans would give them the
strength to fight the Red Tide.5
Nash trucks, called Haul Thrifts, began coming off the lines in
October. Nash had finally decided that these handsome, rugged trucks would be
destined for the export market, not the domestic market.
of all kinds eased as labor peace was achieved, but natural gas
shortages caused both Nash and Kelvinator to close the factories
several times during the winter months. Still, production of Nash
automobiles rose to 113,115 units for the fiscal year, giving the
independent automaker 5% of the total manufacturing pie.
Despite the healthy rise, the marque settled into a very comfortable
tenth place at year’s end as competitors successfully solved their
own production nightmares.6
Kenoshans had many blessings to count as they sat down to the
Thanksgiving table, and later celebrated the merriest of
Christmases since 1929. There would a long road ahead, filled with
good years for Nash-Kelvinator, the good people of Wisconsin and
Kenosha, and for America.
1, Kenosha Evening
News. Nash Anniversary Edition: 1952
Annual Report, 1947.
5. AP Wire Service.
October 10, 1997
6. Mays, James. From
Kenosha to the World, The Rambler, Jeffery and Nash Truck Story,
Also see: Series Contents, Nash Motors, Nash engines, Nash Metropolitan, Jeffery, AMC, the Nash Car Club of America
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